Anatomy of a debunking: Caldeira says Superfreakonomics is “damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and filled with “many” misleading statements. Dubner continues to make false statements, parroted by Pielke and Morano. DeLong urges authors to “abjectly apologize” for the chapter.

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"Anatomy of a debunking: Caldeira says Superfreakonomics is “damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and filled with “many” misleading statements. Dubner continues to make false statements, parroted by Pielke and Morano. DeLong urges authors to “abjectly apologize” for the chapter."

UPDATE:  For an independent vindication of my reporting here, see Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled Superfreakonomics. Dubner is baffled that Caldeira “doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.”

I wish I didn’t have to waste valuable blogging time writing this post to set the record straight.  If, like most people, you understand that Dubner and Leavitt — and Roger Pielke, Jr and Marc Morano — regularly make misstatements and/or misrepresent what others say and that the latter two regularly smear people based on those misrepresentations, you might skip this post.

On the other hand, Dubner and Leavitt still don’t understand what they got wrong — both in the entire chapter and in how they mis-portray the views of the primary climatologist they rely on.  So this post will be useful to set that record straight.  Also, anyone who wants to know how I do things may also find this interesting.  As you’ll see, I have accurately represented what Caldeira believes, and the Superfreaks have not.

The verdict on the book by leading economists is in.  As Nobelist Krugman writes today:

Legalistic quibbling about who said what in an email isn’t going to help Dubner and Levitt here: in this crucial chapter, there’s an average of one statement per page that’s either flatly untrue or deeply misleading.

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong writes today:

Thus I have a little unsolicited advice for Levitt and Dubner. If I were them, I would abjectly apologize.

He then goes through the chapter, offering them suggested page by page edits.

Thus, when I broke the story last Monday, I was accurate in my assessment:  Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and patent nonsense — and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says it is an inaccurate portrayal of me and misleading in many places.

I have mostly explained what happened in Part 5, but since Dubner has spun out a variety of falsehoods with the help of Pielke and Morano, let me tell the story chronologically.  I will note first, however, that Dubner just makes crap up in his attack on me.  Dubner another one of the Superfreaks typical un-fact-checked and false assertions yesterday, “The text was never searchable on Amazon.”

Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate replied directly to Dubner on his NYT website:

With all due respect, the text at Amazon was indeed searchable at the time Romm posted his first post. It is not now.

Ouch.  Gavin’s debunking is here, with links to debunkings by other physical scientists.

Here is Brad DeLong’s entire piece yesterday, “All Right. One More. I Gotta Correct the Record…“:

Steven Dubner writes:

Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear – Freakonomics Blog – NYTimes.com: Much of the outcry was made by people who had read Romm but not our book “” which isn’t surprising, since the book isn’t out until October 20. As the noise grew, Romm added on the charge that “the publisher has stopped Amazon from allowing people to search the book” – that is, to read the actual text online. Smells like a conspiracy theory, no?

But nobody stopped anything. The text was never searchable on Amazon for the simple reason that the book wasn’t yet published, which is standard procedure. I don’t know where Romm got this fact – or if perhaps it was just too good a rumor to not be true…

(1) Dubner’s “nobody stopped anything” is simply wrong. Romm posted a .pdf of Freakonomics chapter 5. Somebody–Dubner and Levitt’s publisher–then did require Romm to take it down. That takedown is in sharp contrast to the behavior of some other publishers these days, who are eager to offer sample chapters online.

(2) Moreover, Romm says that as of last week he was able to use Amazon’s “search inside the book” function on Superfreakonomics, and that somebody turned it off. I believe him:

http://img.skitch.com/20091019-psceb6uc2h4fge62igh4nrxk89.render.png

DeLong posted the above screenshot of this cached web-page from last Tuesday, when the book was searchable online.

I myself searched the book repeatedly to check the quotes in the draft I had been sent.  I have before never seen someone stop the search feature of a book on Amazon. Perhaps they were scared that people would see that my debunking was dead on — and that the chapter was in fact much, much worse than I had time to show in the first post.

So it’s time for Dubner to retract and apologize his statement.

UPDATE:  DeLong has now been Pielke’d after DeLong posted an email from someone pointing out that Pielke (Jr) is “dishonest and wrong.”  You just have to read this email exchange where DeLong questions Pielke’s sanity.

THE CHRONOLOGY:

On October 9, I was sent the photocopied “global cooling” chapter by someone who just couldn’t believe all of the errors and misrepresentations in it, including misrepresentations of the work of Ken Caldeira.  I know Ken and have the greatest respect for him, so I wanted to get his attention and wrote him a strong email titled, “URGENT: The Superfreakonomics folks make you look like Bjorn  Lomborg or worse.”

I explained I wanted to strongly debunk them — yes, I use strong language in private emails and yes, Caldeira has already apologized to me for sharing those e-mails with the Superfreaks, naively thinking they would stay private.  Let me excerpt it at length:

Ken

You need to read this and see how your words have been taken out of context and give me a reply (by Sunday, if possible)….

Lines about you like (page 184) “Yet his research tells him carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight” seriously abuse your reputation and your extensive publications and warnings about the threat of ocean acidification….

I’d like to do a major reply.  I have attached the entire chapter for you to read (and you can confirm it is genuine by going to Amazon and searching for your name).

I’d like a quote like, “The authors of Superfreakonomics have utterly misrepresented my work.” plus whatever else you want to say.

I assume you stand by the Post quote:

“Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions,” he said. “If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it’s pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly.”

and your email to me, including “dystopic world out of a science fiction story” that I can requote.

http://climateprogress.org/2009/09/05/caldeira-delayer-lomborg-copenhagen-climate-consensus-geoengineering/

Other than some inopportune words, kind of basic stuff.

Yes, I did ask him to put in his own words a quote stating that the Superfreaks had misrepresented his views “” because I knew very well that they had based on my previous emails with him (and my reading of his work and having heard him talk).  It is exceedingly common in regular journalism to ask people for a quote that makes a very specific point “” I’ve been asked many times by reporters to do similar things.  And he gave me that quote:

So, yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.

And then after he emailed me that I quote, I took the extra step of explicitly asking him if I could use it (see below), so contrary to disinformers, no quote was planted.

I probably should have put that quote in the first post, instead of merely excerpting in the headline.  Lesson learned on that.  Back to the chronology.

Caldeira emailed me back:

I stand by my statements made earlier.

I believe the correct CO2 emission target is zero….

Every carbon dioxide emission adds to climate damage and increasing risk of catastrophic consequences. There is no safe level of emission.

I compare CO2 emissions to mugging little old ladies … It is wrong to mug little old ladies and wrong to emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.

I am in favor of fire insurance but I am also against playing with matches while sitting on a keg of gunpowder. I am in favor of research into geoengineering options but I am also against carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide emissions represent a real threat to humans and natural systems, and I fear we may have already dawdled too long. That is why I want to see research into geoengineering — because the threat posed by CO2 is real and large, not because the threat is imaginary and small.

In the subsequent emails to me, three things became clear:

  1. Caldeira disagreed with the “villain” line and had made that known.
  2. Caldeira thought the book had “many” statements that were “misleading.”
  3. The authors misrepresented him as someone who believed in their geoengineering only “solution” — as opposed to “research into geoengineering” and as opposed to understanding, as he does, that you need massive mitigation before the “volcano” strategy would make any sense.

As to point 3, on October 9, Caldeira sent me an email containing this point quoting a line from the book and responding to it:

Caldeira 5

This is a key point.  The Superfreaks continue suggest that the leading “climate heavyweights” they talked to support their geo-engineering-only solution.  Caldeira has said before and stands by his statement to me that geo-engineering without the kind of aggressive mitigation the Superfreaks diss is “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.” And, as he made clear here, he just supports research into geo-engineering.

Caldeira did NOT believe that the other quotes by him were erroneous, but had problems with how they were framed.  In an October 9 email, he wrote me:

Joe,

The only real significant error is the line: “carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight.”

That is just wrong and I never would have said it.

On the other hand, I f&@?ed up. They sent me the draft and I approved it without reading it carefully and I just missed it..

I try to provide more context below but I do not believe it is my role as somebody mentioned in a book to spend my time getting them to write the book I would want them to write. (That book wouldn’t make any money.)

The other statements attributed to me may be taken out of context and juxtaposed against interpretations of others, but are based on fact.

I think everyone operated in good faith, and this was just a mistake that got by my inadequate editing.

Best,

Ken

To be clear here, he is talking about errors in how he was quoted, not in the chapter.  Yes, he thinks the Superfreaks operated in good faith.  I don’t, for reasons you will see.  You can be the judge of who is right about that.

Crucially that is not the end of the emails, as Dubner and Pielke would have you believe.  Indeed, Caldeira spent a lot of time trying to figure out just what went wrong.  And when he figured out what happened, he explained it to me in later e-mails, which I noted in Part 5:

Caldeira email1

Ken disagreed with the sentence, communicated it to Nathan.  Amazingly, Dubner did get it, but did not make the change.  If someone had sent back that comment to me on my book, I would have dropped the line.

I emailed Ken back:

Are you telling me that the authors did not send you galleys for comment but you got them third hand from Nathan?

and Ken emailed me back

Caldeira email2

I think the point is clear.  Ken disagreed with the notion that CO2 is not the villain, they wanted to keep the line and attribute it to him, and they did.  I wrote it part 1:

Levitt and Dubner didn’t run this quote by Caldeira, and when he saw a version from Myrhvold, he objected to it.  But Levitt and Dubner apparently wanted to keep it very badly “” it even makes the  SuperFreakonomics Table of Contents in the Chapter Five summary “Is carbon dioxide the wrong villain?”  It fits their contrarian sensibility, but it makes no actual sense.

That’s why I stand by what I wrote.  If I find out that a book I’m writing contains a line attributing something to a scientist that they don’t believe, I’d change it.  I’d also be in direct communications with them and if I really, really wanted to keep that line, I would explicitly and directly send them back that line and ask them.

Unlike Dubner, I have worked hard to represent what Caldeira believes.

Caldeira did in fact write to me on the 10th:

So, yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.

And just to be 100% certain, I wrote him back the same day:

If the authors did not ask you directly for corrections, that is inexcusable.

I hope I can quote you:  “yes, my representation in the Superfreakonomics book is damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me. The problem is the inaccurate portrayal, not my actions or statements.”

It also seems to me accurate to say that the authors of the book did not ask you directly for any corrections and when you saw the galleys, you try to explain that the “villain” quote did not accurately represent your views at all.

And he gave me the go-ahead:

I assume when I send you things, you can quote them unless I specifically say otherwise.

After rereading the chapter, I sent him another email on the 11th pointing out other areas where I thought they had misrepresented his views.  He wrote me back, directly quoting a line from the book and commenting on it:

Caldeira 3

So, yes, Caldeira is accusing them of selective quoting here.  Remember that the next line in the book is:

The gentleman of IV abound with further examples of global warming meme that are all wrong.

The point, of course, is that what Caldeira said is well understood and not a meme that is all wrong.  It is the Superfreaks spin and selective quoting that is all wrong.

In this same email, Caldeira wrote me:

Caldeira 4

I know my regular readers understand how hard I try to accurately portray what the scientists I talk to mean — and what they mean to say.  But for those others who might be persuaded by the selective quoting and misrepresentations of Dubner, Levitt, and Pielke, I think it is pretty clear that my original, debunking blog post — including the headline — was in fact an accurate representation of what Caldeira wrote to me:

Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’: New book pushes global cooling myths, sheer illogic, and “patent nonsense” “” and the primary climatologist it relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and “misleading” in “many” places.

Yes, Caldeira is unhappy that he got caught up in this.  Who can blame him?  He is a leading climatologist and wants to spend his time doing climatology and persuading policymakers of the urgent need for action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

So now you know the whole story of how I came to wrote my accurate debunking of the error-riddled book, Superfreakonomics.  There’s been no smear job — except by Dubner, Pielke and Morano.

Of course, the story was never about me or some emails, but about the “average of one statement per page that’s either flatly untrue or deeply misleading,” in the chapter, as Krugman says, for which, the authors should “abjectly apologize,” as DeLong says.

If the publisher had not taken down the chapter I posted or if someone hadn’t stopped the book from being searchable, then everyone would have seen from day one that my analysis was dead on, rather than it taking a few days for that to be clear.

I’m glad I broke the story.  I wish Caldeira hadn’t gotten caught up in all this, but we are still on very good terms and in fact last night he sent me a major unpublished analysis he did that readers have asked to see.  I’ll be posting it soon.

If you’re still reading, I welcome comments.

Ken
You need to read this and see how your words have been taken out of context and give me a reply (by Sunday, if possible), because I want to trash them for this insanity and ignorance.
Lines about you like (page 184) “Yet his research tells him carbon dioxide is not the right villain in this fight” seriously abuse your reputation and your extensive publications and warnings about the threat of ocean acidification.
My blog is read by everyone in this area, including the media, so I’d like to do a major reply.  I have attached the entire chapter for you to read (and you can confirm it is genuine by going to Amazon and searching for your name).
I’d like a quote like, “The authors of Superfreakonomics have utterly misrepresented my work.” plus whatever else you want to say.
I assume you stand by the Post quote:
“Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions,” he said. “If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it’s pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly.”
and your email to me, including “dystopic world out of a science fiction story” that I can requote.

« »

31 Responses to Anatomy of a debunking: Caldeira says Superfreakonomics is “damaging to me because it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and filled with “many” misleading statements. Dubner continues to make false statements, parroted by Pielke and Morano. DeLong urges authors to “abjectly apologize” for the chapter.

  1. This has been a fascinating account of how information/disinformation winds its way through the publication process. Thanks for keeping on top of this for us.

  2. It is useful to remember that the Superfreaks *had* to be contrarian, since that is the whole point of their book.

    They wanted to write about global warming because it is a controversial issue. Because of their contrarian stance, they had to ignore the mainstream scientific consensus and come up with some far-out alternative. They obviously didn’t know much about climate science to begin with, and so they cherry-picked information and quotes that supported their contrarian stance, and ignored all the mainstream science.

    This is obviously not the way to write a coherent or useful book. But unfortunately, it does seems to be the way that the publishing industry works.

  3. Robert Nagle says:

    I appreciate your in-depth treatment of this publishing fiasco. The danger of course is that a William Morrow publisher (which is owned by news corp) has a massive publicity budget and lots of media contacts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them as guests on the soft news channels. Dubner and Levitt may have lost the argument among academics, but I have a feeling the media will prefer milking the “controversy” for all its worth. (Remember, this a culture which puts Glen Beck on the cover of Time magazine).

  4. Florifulgurator says:

    A soundbite you should add to the “Recognition” sidebar:
    “I trust Joe Romm on climate”
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/a-counterintuitive-train-wreck/

  5. Thom says:

    Roger Pielke Jr. is so consistently dishonest. It’s just amazing.

  6. José Matias says:

    I’m a portuguese economist and I concur with Krugman whem he says”: I trust Joe Romm on climate”

  7. Kevin says:

    Regardless of how Caldeira previewed the galleys, I’m surprised he didn’t examine the chapter more closely. SuperFreakonomics will be read by millions – unlike anything Caldeira’s written. It could have been one of his best opportunities to disseminate his climate-change research.

    Say what you will about Dubner and Levitt, but it was never in their best interest to willfully misrepresent Caldeira’s work, since they would have known they’d get caught if they were blatantly lying. Given Caldeira’s opportunity to preview the chapter, he can blame only himself if it misrepresents him.

    [JR: Not clear. If they use his statements to draw conclusions opposite to the ones he is trying to advance, what can he do?]

  8. Mike says:

    Bravo Joe!

    I have to admit that Dubner’s defense posted on his NYTimes blog had me feeling some sympathy for him and thinking maybe you overstated your criticisms, but reading this post has made everything clear. I can’t believe that such influential journalists as Dubner and Levitt could have totally not done their homework on this book.

    Keep it up!

  9. David Harrington says:

    Did you or did you not try to push Caldeira for your required quote?

    [snip]

    [JR: I asked him precisely once with a specific quote. After that, after I read the chapter several times, we had a back and forth of several emails where I asked for his comments on various inane and inaccurate statements and the chapter as a whole.

    And when Caldeira gave me a quote, I specifically asked him if I could use it. What more can I do as a journalist? That is far more than what most "real" journalists do and Dubner didn't come close to do thing.

    I have sat in interviews with leading journalists -- famous ones -- where they ask me the same question in slightly different form literally 8 times to try to get me to say precisely what they want me to say. I didn't do that here at all.]

  10. hapa says:

    “I have sat in interviews with leading journalists — famous ones — where they ask me the same question in slightly different form literally 8 times to try to get me to say precisely what they want me to say.”

    anyone who has dealt with mass media news recently can verify this. it’s such a common experience stephen cobert & co built part of his show around it: “better know a district.”

  11. kmye says:

    The subsequent emails certainly offer some greater context on some of what transpired here.

    One bit in the post I don’t understand:
    At the bottom of Dr. Caldeira’s October 10th email, he writes: “I do not think my edited version was ever returned to Dubner, not because of ulterior motives, but just because it got lost in the sauce of documents flying around.”

    Dr. Romm’s immediately following commentary is: “Ken disagreed with the sentence, communicated it to Nathan. Amazingly, Dubner did get it, but did not make the change.”

    Now, if it was an honest mistake, as Dr. Caldeira seems to speculate in his email, that would be very poor, and it seems as if the sentence in the book should be corrected immediately for all future printings.

    My question is, are to we interpret Dr. Romm’s commentary as proposing that the email was in fact forwarded to Dubner, and that he ignored it, in contrast to what Dr. Caldeira seems to think happened? If so, is this because of some other information Dr. Romm has that wasn’t included in the blog post?

    [JR: Dubner included some of Caldeira's text in the book -- he just didn't drop the sentence that Caldeira objected to because he apparently really wanted that hook.]

  12. Steve says:

    Joe,

    You never actually link to or address what Pielke said, or Morano for that matter. For the benefit of you readers I thought you might like to address that, since you attack both of them in the title of your post. What gives?

    [JR: I don't generally like to like link to the deniers and delayers and disinformers if I don't have to. They can easily be found with Google. Debunking Dubner covers Pielke and Morano -- fruits of a poisonous tree.]

  13. MarkB says:

    Dubner is throwing out a very clear red herring. He criticizes Romm by pointing to an email that asks Caldeira to make a statement, as if somehow that discounts the statement made by Caldeira. If someone asked me to say the grass is purple, I’m not going to say that if it’s not true. The bottom line is Dubner and Levitt misrepresented what Caldeira said, and this is a weasely defense by Dubner.

  14. Anna Haynes says:

    FYI to all – I’ve created a SourceWatch page for Caldeira, documenting the cases of misrepresentation that I’m aware of; if you’d care to improve it…?

    (and “Joe”#12, you do remind me of “Steve”.)

  15. Lou Grinzo says:

    Of course Dubner is focusing on the asking for a quotation non-issue; it’s all he has left–misdirection via an irrelevant detail. Sound like climate change deniers (or contrarians or …)?

    I can also say with certainty that “asking for a quote” is perfectly within bounds and common practice. When I was writing for computer magazines I was asked to blurb a few products, and in those cases I wasn’t asked for a quote on a specific point, I was given a quote and asked if they could attribute it to me, clearly a much more extreme situation than anything JR did.

    In general, I think what we have here is a case of either very sloppy work on the part of the Superfreakonomics authors, or a blatant attempt to sell books via stirring up controversy. (Which is in itself contrary to the conventional wisdom of succeeding by making the book’s content as accurate and enlightening as possible.) I have no way of telling which it is; right now, all I can see is this being one of those books that has to be debunked about one quadrillion times over the next decade, even as it’s taken as gospel by far too many consumers and voters we need and want to be working with us on this issue.

  16. Eli Rabett says:

    Be all that as it may Caldeira is in the middle of a brown storm and his only way out is to issue the strongest possible statement with zero room for the weasels.

    [JR: Not his style, but you never know.]

  17. Anna Haynes says:

    On the Freakonomics blog’s sidebar today:

    “Naked Self-Promotion
    SuperFreakonomics is out on October 20, and the rave reviews are pouring in. From the Financial Times: “all that needs to be said is that the sequel’s title is an accurate description. This book is a lot like Freakonomics, but better.” The N.Y. Post calls it “magnificent stuff … brave, bracing, and beautifully contrarian.”
    …”

    Earth to Levitt and Dubner…

  18. Wes Rolley says:

    The problem with being a contrarian is that you attract all of the misfits and left outs who finally think that they found a champion and a cause. It is so easy to let someone else do your thinking for you… you don’t even know when they are wrong.

    Unfortunately, it also allows political opportunists like Meg Whitman to utilize that for perceived political advantage, as when she said that, if elected governor, she would suspend California’s AB 32… an incomplete, inadequate start toward climate change regulation but the best that we have passed so far.

    Wes Rolley CoChair, EcoAction Committee Green Party US

  19. Roger says:

    Joe, Slightly off topic, but then again…maybe not (think red herring).

    While all of this hullabaloo is going on, let’s all not lose sight of the fact that what looks to be the largest global climate rally on the planet is about to take place on this Saturday, October 24th!

    Thanks to the thankless, year-long efforts of Bill McKibben and his one-continent-per-person crew at http://www.350.org, nearly 4000 citizen’s climate actions will take place in more than 160 countries as part of Global Climate Action Day. Many other climate heros and organizations are piling on to this phenomenon, including Al Gore, Greenpeace, etc. It’s not too late to join, or start, an action near you, if your on Earth!

    This seems like it’s becoming big enough to be worth covering on Climate Progress. Also, a really huge turnout would indeed help climate progress. One worthwhile message is that citizens, at least those who understand what’s going on, want their governments to take more aggressive action to help stem climate change–both at home, and at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen.

    Let’s all pile on to help the cause. After all, McKibben was one of the key people behind the idea for the massive, March, 2009 Capitol Climate Action in Washington, DC that led to Congress deciding to switch their coal-powered power plant over to (cleaner) natural gas.

  20. lizardo says:

    Thanks for getting the record out there, Joe. Interesting that Morrow is owned by News Corp.

    Am I right in thinking that the book was somewhat framed around the title in a misleading way to get some sales and puffery…. the global cooling in the title refers to geo-engineering but could come up in a search if you are looking at a book about (debunked) global cooling vs. global warming. ?

  21. MarkB says:

    In other news, global sea level reaches new heights. Data I think is through June, 2009. Don’t expect deniers to be doing a post on this.

    http://sealevel.colorado.edu/current/sl_ib_ns_global.jpg

  22. mike roddy says:

    It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out in terms of MSM coverage and book sales. We have a clear case of right and wrong when it comes to scientific evidence and journalistic integrity.

    If the Steves go on the talk shows and get thrown a lot of softballs, we’ll get a good idea of where this is all going to end up. I’m not holding my breath when it comes to Regis etc, but maybe the late night guys or even Oprah can figure out the truth and take a stand on it.

    I just hope this isn’t too much to expect.

  23. Dano says:

    Mark, the index sez that the .jpg was created 9/18. The denialists no longer mention SLR, as it refutes their worldview and the rate of increase is very inconvenient to any…erm…”argument” they cut-paste.

    Best,

    D

  24. Jeff Huggins says:

    More Light Needed

    Hi all. I think it’s great to examine and debunk this book, of course.

    Yet, I’d like to point something out.

    In recent days, people (here and elsewhere) have been debunking this book. And, much of the mainstream media is shining light on the (much less important) balloon deception, for what that’s worth.

    But at the same time, the most profitable company in the U.S., and one of the two largest oil companies on the planet (whose products generate well over one trillion pounds of CO2 annually, when used, based on my estimates), makes confusing, misleading, narrow (and out of context) statements, and tries to “sell” irresponsible decisions, to the public every week, often in The New York Times and on major TV channels. They also talk out of both sides of their mouths and so forth. And where is the spotlight? Where is the debunking? Where is the responsible coverage, in the media or elsewhere?

    Even though Superfreakonomics will be a big seller and generate media attention, and so it’s vital to debunk, the messages of ExxonMobil and the API are even much larger and more continuous in scale, and more confusing. Let’s not leave “what whole thing” unexamined, or underexamined, or undebunked or under-debunked.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  25. Sam Spade says:

    I couldn’t finish this article…though I’d read the earlier Parts.
    Bravo that you have the stomach to return to the details…but I don’t.

    Certainly Dubner and Leavitt had aimed higher. But I think pages 186-187 leave them on the same library shelf with the sillier of the skeptic books.

  26. Joe, well done on your efforts in debunking this book. It is a great compliment that Krugman paid you. As one of your regular readers I agree with him (while still reading what you write critically as I am sure he does). The normal high quality and number of your posts amazes me.

  27. Mark says:

    I tried to read Freakonomics on Leavitt’s work a couple of years ago, and put it down after 20 pages due to its to me suffocating sense of self-satisfaction, as well as its being hard to follow.

    But it did purport to be about that sometimes previously seen-to-be opaque cause and effect in matters of public concern – such as that to do with the rise and decrease of the crack cocaine trade – could be evaluated.

    But then, as Brad DeLong states, in their new book, they quoted approvingly this, from Boris Johnson (always alarm bells when Boris pronounces, anyway):”The fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful.’

    This seems so precisely counter to the successful evaluation of sometimes previously opaque cause and effect in matters of public concern that,noting they clearly do not understand global warming – I now wonder if they even understand their own work.

  28. Ibrahim says:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists has commented -very critically (“grossly mischaracterizes climate science”) – on the book’s discussion of climate change

    http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/global_warming_contrarians/book-superfreakonomics.html

    Their discussion of the chapter is also available at amazon.com, under customer discussions

  29. C. Vink says:

    Joe, the comment function on ‘Energy and Global Warming News for October 19′ seems not to work (comment is accepted, but not displayed).

  30. Marion Delgado says:

    I’m ususally in your corner, Eli, but this time I think Caldeira should be Caldeira. So far, he’s responded very honestly and forthrightly – did a better job, as Michael Tobis has mentioned, and I’ve discussed with him, than Wunsch or Schneider, e.g.

    And Wunsch’s quavery, ambiguous objections to the GGWS really helped sink it. Caldeira’s much, much more blunt in his scientist hedging way. This book may actually sink, and sink Levitt and Dubner with it.

  31. Marion Delgado says:

    If I put out a book called “Thrive in the Recession by converting stray pets to fur and food products because business is our business and the market is always right” the Financial Times and the NY Post would call it the best book of the year. Or the NY Post would say “after the Bible.”